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I have tried to explain to people for quite some time that I am less thrilled about being pretty than everyone else seems to be and when I try, I’m often met with the response: “but think of all the stuff you get. People buy you drinks, take you out. You can get anything you want.” Except left alone. Except personal space and privacy when you step outside.
There is a strange phenomenon in this world that an attractive person no longer belongs to themselves; that by being born looking a certain way, you must be prepared for the onslaught of desperation and clumsy pick-up attempts that will undoubtedly follow you until your looks finally fade. You are told to be flattered since there’s really nothing else you can do about it. Just be flattered and take what you can get from it. Maybe a free dinner or flirting your way out of a ticket. Girls that are pretty and don’t really want to be are told to “just play the game.”
Louis CK opened one of his shows with a joke about how people always say young, pretty girls have it so easy since it’s believed that men all buy them drinks and dinner, a point that Louis clearly rolls his eyes at. “I can’t imagine being a young, pretty girl in a city,” he says. “First of all, you’re smaller than everyone and everywhere you go, you realize you’re everybody’s cum fantasy. You’re sitting on the subway, you just feel buckets of cum hit you in the face.” Ah, Louis, you get it. You’re one of the few that do.
Now before everyone gets all up in arms about a pretty girl bemoaning her looks, consider how this would be read if I was complaining about being ugly. People would jump to explain that the cult of beauty has narrowed our view and stunts us immensely. They would explain we’re held to standards and constantly told how important it is to be attractive when really, it means very little. So why can’t it work both ways? Why can’t I see the cult of beauty for what it is and be just as angry about it as someone who’s not happy with their appearance? We are obsessed with our images, in more ways than one.
When I was sixteen, I stopped taking math and science classes because I hated all the standardized testing. I stopped taking challenging classes and opted for easy electives and bullshit courses about literature because I could pass with flying colors without even lifting a finger. I didn’t give a damn about my brain anymore, school had sucked the joy of learning out of me, and my brain and I both just surrendered. No one said a thing.
That same year, all the girls were gathered together for endless forums about body image and being happy with themselves, and while I understand the purpose of these discussions, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re so obsessed with physicality that we don’t even bother with our brains anymore.
We never sat in a darkened classroom and watched a made-for-TV movie about a girl giving up stimulating classes, and how pushing ourselves mentally is really how we’ll have confidence. Instead, we learned about eating disorders and airbrushing in magazines, and despite my protests that I hadn’t read a teen magazine since I was twelve, I was not permitted to leave.
This is the cult of beauty in its own weird way. This is the thought process that assures on-lookers that girls want to be told they’re pretty above all else.
“This is the cult of beauty, the thought process that assures on-lookers girls want to be told they’re pretty above all else.”
During college, I spent a semester living in London and when I returned, I had “blossomed” into a more adult version of myself. In high school, I boxed and throughout college, I played rugby which are both sports that call for roughness and a certain level of heartiness from the participants. While staying in London, I began training for a marathon, my next sport of choice. I lost weight and upon arriving at home, I was greeted with overenthusiastic responses about how great I looked. That’s fine, that’s just what people do, but as a girl who spent most of her time as a chubby tomboy, a majority of my friends were male and their over enthusiasm was not just annoying; it was intrusive.
They had suddenly changed toward me and no amount of my swearing up and down that I was the same person I had always been would turn it back. I had entered a different realm where not only was I now “one of the hot girls” but I was an option for their attraction which I had never been before. These were boys I had spent years of my life having hot sauce-drinking and fart lighting contests with, and in the blink of an eyes, I lost their friendships. Oh, I had their hard-ons, if I should ever want them, but I was no longer a viable candidate for friendships.
Now, I’m not blaming them specifically. They’ve been conditioned just as everyone else has and to them, I couldn’t possibly be who I was before. A few extra pounds, messily cut hair, and a bruised up face from whichever sport I was into was the only difference but when I “emerged a butterfly,” as I have so often heard it referred to as, I was subject to being hit on, physically picked up, having spontaneous shoulder rubs for no reason, and getting way more hugs than comfort allowed. All I wanted to do was drink hot sauce and fart with them but their Pavlovian response to a girl they were attracted to was the exact opposite. In fact, if one of them had put a shot glass of Heartbreaking Dawn’s Chili Sauce in front of me and farted as he walked away, I probably would have thrown myself at him.
Even at my least attractive, I was never insecure about my appearance. I’ve spent years of my life measuring my brain up to other people’s and in some cases, giving up entirely on what I thought my mind could do. I gave up thinking; I gave up trying, all the while still hearing, “God, you’re so lucky. You look like that without make-up? Wow, you’re so pretty.” I’ve had teachers kiss me and bosses come on to me and the response is often, “Well, can you blame them?” I certainly can.
A friend of mine, who’s a very bright and beautiful girl, once had a boss make a move on her when she was seventeen. Later, when I told her about a teacher of mine that had kissed me, she said she was proud I had gotten him to do that. This girl is not an idiot; she’s frighteningly intelligent. Still, in her mind, that weird, heavy masculine thing I used to be could not “have gotten” an adult man to kiss me that way so I must be thrilled now that I’m such an object of lust. People can’t contain themselves around me anymore, what an exciting prospect! What a brave new world I’m entering where I never feel safe and I’ll always hold the thought in the back of my mind the reason anyone is giving me the time of day is because they want to sleep with me.
Am I happier with how I look now as opposed to being a teenager? Absolutely. There’s more than one factor to that, of course. I’m not in high school, for starters, and in the past few years, I’ve been able to undo some of the damage I did when my brain and I both decided to check out. I enjoy how I look, I think I’m stunning and I think I have a great body. I dress like a boy still and I very rarely wear form fitting clothes. I can’t even tell you how many girls, and gay men, have told me how pretty I am and how great I could look if only I dressed better or did something with my hair or wore make-up or yada yada yada. How is this not the cult of beauty? Why is this considered helpful? I don’t want to be pretty. I don’t want to be ugly. I want to look like me and just have nobody say a damn word about it. A girl can dream, can’t she? A girl can dream…